The CAF Women African Cup of Nations: The Journey So Far

There was a time when organized women’s football in Africa was virtually non-existent. Football was played only by the men. At best, the women became spectators and that is if at all, they are given the opportunity of watching the game. There was virtually no organized women’s football in the high school or semi-professional club level in Africa up until the 80’s although, the first recorded and published organised women’s football matches in South Africa took place in the early 1960s, when the ‘Mother City Girls’ played curtain-raiser matches in Cape Town.

​Women football historians, Abisuga and Awurumibe (1991) and Saavedra (2006) have all claimed that the start of women football in Nigeria was in 1978. The date provided by Abisugaand Awurumibe (1991) and Saavedra (2006) is unlikely to be accurate given the documented letter to The West African Pilot of 1939, the competitive games of the 1940s reported in Nigerian newspapers, reports of women football in the Nigerian Observer in 1971 and then Soccer International’s photograph and report of 1974, which all precede the 1978 date. What is however not controversial, is the fact that CAF started organizing competitive women football in Africa in 1991.

​The first ever FIFA women World Cup was to be hosted in China in 1991 and a slot had been given to Africa. To fill the slot, CAF started a World Cup qualification series with eight countries originally billed to participate but only four teams turned up as four countries pulled out, leading to several walkovers. In the end, Nigeria snatched the world cup ticket, beating Cameroun in the final qualifying series 2-0 in Lagos and 4-0 in Yaoundé. Buoyed by the response that greeted the birth of the organized women’s game in Africa, particularly the last game of the qualifying series for the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup, where 30,000 fans turned up for the match between Nigeria and Cameroun in Yaoundé, CAF started toying with the idea of starting a tournament like that of the men and by the time six countries out of the originally scheduled eight turned up for the 1995 FIFA Women World Cup qualifying series for Africa, CAF became convinced that it was time for the first Africa Women football tournament to be hosted in Africa for the women footballers from Africa. It was so easy to convince Nigeria to host the inaugural edition, why not? Nigeria had won the World Cup ticket to represent Africa at the FIFA women World Cup, twice already (1991 and 1995). In fact, at the 1995 edition in Sweden, Nigeria became not only the first African team to score at the world cup, but also the first team to earn a point as she forced Canada, currently the world champions in Women Football to an exciting 3-3 draw. The Super Falcons of Nigeria only narrowly missed qualification for the quarter-finals, with a 2-3 last group game defeat to England in a game they needed to win.

​The modalities were worked out with CAF and eight countries were to gather in Nigeria in 1998, for the first ever CAF Africa women championship. Mozambique later withdrew, reducing the number of teams in group B to 3 (Ghana, Cameroun, South Africa) while Group A had 4 teams (Nigeria, DR Congo, Morocco, Egypt) but that did not in any way take away the shine from the tournament. A football showpiece dedicated to the women folks in Africa had been born. Since 1998, the Africa Women championship, now known as the Women Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) has been held biennially with the exception being the 2020 edition, no thanks to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

​24 years on and Africa is set for another fiesta, this time and for the first time ever, the hosting right has gone to North Africa. The best 12 teams in Women football in Africa are all converging in Morocco from the 2nd – 23rd July 2022 with Casablanca and Rabat serving as venues. The qualified teams are Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroun, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia while host Morocco makes up the numbers. Nigeria are the defending champions, a title they won far back in 2018 by defeating South Africa on penalties after a goalless draw in regulation time, the last time the WAFCON was held in Ghana.

​This year’s tournament, Morocco 2022 is the first time 12 teams will be participating at the final tournament as against the previous total number of 8 teams. This tournament will also be the first AWCON to produce representatives for Africa at the FIFA senior Women World Cup billed for Australia and New Zealand as the four Semi-finalists will automatically qualify for the world showpiece while two more teams will advance to the inter-confederation play-offs.

Let the matches begin!